Ugandan President stirs AIDS summit proposing abstinence

A debate erupted at the 15th International AIDS Conference yesterday after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told delegates that abstinence, not condoms, is the best way to prevent the spread of AIDS, reported Reuters.

The issue has set many AIDS activists at odds with health experts and the United States, which back condoms as the major defense against AIDS.

Museveni told delegates he considers condoms “an improvisation, not a solution.”

Instead, he called for “optimal relationships based on love and trust instead of institutionalized mistrust, which is what the condom is all about.”

Museveni’s remarks were based on his country’s success story with AIDS, which resulted from a national abstinence campaign. Official figures indicate that six percent of Uganda's 26.5 million people are now infected, down from 30 percent in the 1980s.

Uganda's "ABC" method (Abstinence, Being faithful and Condoms) is a model for the AIDS policies of the Bush administration.

In Asia, where infection rates are rising, some NGOs advocate the “CNN method” which stresses condoms, needles and negotiation, which has not shown any significant success.

U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to attend the weeklong meeting, criticized the Bush administration’s approach and said “abstaining from sex is oftentimes not a choice, and therefore their only hope in preventing HIV infection is the use of condoms".

But Ted Green, a member of Bush's council on AIDS, questioned the focus on condoms and the belief that “people can't stop AIDS unless they buy a product.”

Simon Onaba, a Uganda youth delegate, who first had sex at age 15 but who has shunned it for the past three years, said condoms were not a 100-percent guarantee against infection, reported Reuters.

"I am a sexual being, but I recognize HIV/AIDS is a killer," said Onaba. "I will wait until my wedding night."

AIDS has killed about 20 million people to date; about 38 million are infected.

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